Awesome Mom Seeks To Change Airline Guidelines To Improve Travel For People With Autism

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Traveling is hard. Traveling with children is harder. Traveling with children who have special needs? Well, I venture to guess that could easily turn into a nightmare situation depending on the circumstances. Especially when airports and airplanes are involved, because it’s rarely a smooth experience for anyone. When Beth Joy Papaleo decided to take her young, autistic daughter on a Hawaiian vacation, she made sure the arrangements accommodated her daughter’s needs.

Papaleo’s four-year-old daughter Vivie is mild to moderate on the autism spectrum, so the trip was booked well in advance and Papaleo also confirmed with Hawaiian Airlines three times that the toddler could have a doctor-prescribed bulkhead seat during both flights. The journey from New York City to Maui went well.  The airline honored the seating arrangements to help Vivie’s sensory issues en route. But on the journey back to the mainland, Papaleo alleges that the gate agents refused to honor Vivie’s seat prescription “even though it showed up on their computer screen.” The mom said one gate agent simply stated, “She does not look autistic.” (I can’t even touch this one. I’m taking a deep breath and letting it go.)

After what I’m sure was quite an unpleasant ordeal that could have easily been avoided, Papaleo was inspired to start a petition urging politicians to update and amend the Air Carrier Access Act, which was originally was designed to assist people with disabilities and their air travel needs. Beth now wants the ACAA to specifically include people with autism, which it currently does not. Seems fair enough, right? I can’t personally see how this could have any negative effect, so I really hope she gains some traction with it and sparks some change.

Since launching her petition, Papaleo says:

“We are not alone in this fight. We as parents are asking for not only the safety and well-being of our children but for the comfort of other passengers flying as we know our children’s sensory issues best.”

To date, the petition has over 6,000 signatures. For their part, a representative from Hawaiian Airlines gave a standard PR statement, stating they can’t really state anything because of privacy. Mmmmkay.

(Photo: Shutterstock)